Senator McConnell’s Debt-Ceiling End Game

We are now two weeks away from the White House imposed August 2nd, 2011 deadline to raise the debt limit and one thing is clearer than ever: Not even a U.S. government default will deter President Obama and liberal Democrats from continuing their quest to permanently expand the size and scope of the federal government to unprecedented levels. The White House and the Senate Majority have thrown up a wall of opposition to any meaningful reductions in federal spending even in return for raising the debt ceiling.

Let’s review the bidding. President Obama’s February budget made no long-term impact on the deficit. The Senate Democratic Majority won’t even propose a budget, let alone actually try and pass one. The Democratic Chair of the Senate Budget Committee focuses his attention almost exclusively on tax increases and defense cuts. In the bipartisan deficit reduction talks chaired by Vice President Biden, Democratic representatives focused almost exclusively on which taxes should be increased.

When the president finally became involved in the discussions, the White House leaked the news that the president would accept major entitlement changes in Social Security and Medicare if the Republicans would accept, drum roll please, tax increases. Liberals predictably howled about this, threatening all methods of retaliation against any officeholder who would even consider the possibility of amending these programs.

Politics aside, it’s odd that liberals are so opposed to any changes in Medicare and Social Security. They are not means tested, so the hated “millionaires and billionaires” qualify for benefits just like the rest of us. Circumstances since their creation in the 1930s and 1960s have changed dramatically and both require major reform in order to survive. Worse, the alternative to changing these programs is further reductions in programs aimed at helping the poor including Medicaid and food stamps. Finally, the programs grow so fast in the out years that real deficit reduction is not possible without changes.

Liberals needn’t have worried. Despite being pressed by Republicans, President Obama refused to specify, which if any, entitlement changes he would support. This is in keeping with his perfect record of never advocating any major and specific spending cuts, despite a constant public focus on the debt ceiling crisis.

The administration is addicted to big government. All they’ll talk about are tax increases. Unfortunately, you can’t come close to solving the debt crisis with higher taxes. Ending “tax breaks” for President Obama’s favorite targets such as the energy and financial services industries will yield a pittance against what is needed. Cancelling the Bush tax cuts for the top two brackets, even assuming no work disincentives, will raise only about $700 billion against the $10 trillion of new debt the Obama budgets will create for the next decade.

The best indication that these talks are going nowhere was the president’s recent lament that, absent an agreement, he cannot guarantee that social security checks will go out on time.

Against this background, the plan promoted by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell might be the best outcome for now. Stripped of technicalities, the plan would authorize the president to increase the debt ceiling in stages up to $2.5 trillion, with Republicans voting no, if the president proposes and Republicans do not disapprove an equal amount of spending reductions. This is the maximum amount of deficit reduction at issue in the talks right now in any case. President Obama will get his increase and his spending. Republicans will have made a credible down payment on their promise to get spending under control.

And the issue will be joined for 2012.

The writer is Chairman of GOPAC, the center for educating and electing a new generation of Republican leaders.